Sunday 10 June 2012

Ian Fleming in Any Human Heart

When Ian Fleming Publications announced that author William Boyd was to write the next James Bond adventure, many of the media reports drew attention to the fact that not only was Boyd a self-confessed fan of the Bond novels – with From Russia, with Love being his favourite – but he had also written Fleming into his 2002 novel, Any Human Heart. A more complete read of the novel provides further connections with the world of Ian Fleming.

Any Human Heart takes the form of a set of journals by the protagonist, Logan Mountstuart. Beginning in 1923, the journals reveal the story of his life from his time at a minor public school to his final days in France in the early 1990s. In between, the journals encompass Mountstuart's years at Oxford University, his early period as a writer, his journalism covering the Spanish Civil War, his experiences in naval intelligence during the Second World War, his career as a New York art dealer, and his time living in London and West Africa. Throughout, he meets people of note, including fellow writers, artists, royalty, and, of course, Ian Fleming.

Fleming makes several appearances. We first encounter him in August 1935 in Scotland on a golf course. Fleming is introduced to Mountstuart by a mutual friend and tells Mountstuart that he is travelling to Kitzb├╝hel. In reality, Fleming did visit Kitzb├╝hel in August, and indeed went there most summers before the Second World War. But his visit in 1935 was especially meaningful for Fleming. While he was there, he met Muriel Wright, who would become his lover for nine years until she was killed in an air raid in London.

Then, in October 1935, Mountstuart plays golf with Fleming at Huntercombe, near Henley-on-Thames, before lunching with him at the Savoy Grill. The course had been a regular Fleming haunt since childhood. Amusingly, William Boyd appears to make Mountstuart responsible for turning Fleming to writing. We learn in the same journal entry that Fleming asked Mountstuart about his writing after revealing, as was indeed the case, that he was unhappy being a stockbroker.

Mountstuart's recruitment into the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) is described later in the novel in a journal entry dating to July 1939. Fleming invites Mountstuart to lunch at the Carlton Grill, within the Carlton Hotel, and tells him how impressed he was with Mountstuart's reports from the Spanish Civil War, and hints at a role for him at the Admiralty. On the way out, they meet Admiral Godfrey, director of the NID. Boyd tells us that Mountstuart began his career in the NID as a lieutenant in the Special Branch of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. Mountstuart's recruitment matches that of Fleming's very closely. Fleming joined the NID after lunching with Admiral Godfrey at the Carlton Grill, and he was appointed to the rank of lieutenant (Special Branch) of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. Later, Mountstuart is promoted to the rank of commander, just was Fleming was.

The final reference to Fleming dates to October 3, 1955. Mountstuart has read Live and Let Die, which had been published the year earlier, and writes that he cannot suspend his disbelief, as he sees Fleming as a very strong presence in it.

Other literary luminaries who cross paths with Logan Mountstuart to lesser or greater extents formed part of Ian Fleming's world. At Oxford Mountstuart meets Peter Quennell. Quennell was a close friend of Ann Fleming, and came to know Ian Fleming well. Then we learn that, after Oxford during his early period as writer in London, Mountstuart lives close to Cyril Connolly. Connolly was a friend of Ian Fleming's and wrote the James Bond parody, 'Bond Strikes Camp'. Later Mountstuart meets Evelyn Waugh at a party. After the Second World War, Evelyn Waugh and Ann Fleming became firm friends. Mention is also made by Mountstuart of William Plomer, Ian Fleming's editor at Jonathan Cape.

William Boyd's Any Human Heart provides much interest for the Fleming and Bond aficionado. It gives us insight into Boyd's style and the potential direction of his Bond novel, but his references to Fleming and others reveal a detailed knowledge and fascination with Ian Fleming, which can only point to his Bond adventure being a worthy tribute to Fleming and James Bond.

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